BEAVER FALLS, Pa. (AP) _ It took 10 seconds for a tornado to demolish a crowded shopping center, tossing automobiles through plate glass windows and burying shoppers under tons of rubble.
At least three people died and 30 were injured when one of the killer twisters that mauled western Pennsylvania ripped into the Big Beaver Borough shopping plaza Friday night, leaving only brick walls standing, authorities said.
Two of the deaths were at the shopping center; the third came when the tornado blew into nearby North Sewickley Township and mowed down an unidentified man with flying debris, authorities said.
″There was debris coming out of the top of the funnel,″ said Paul Gorby, a member of the nearby West Mayfield Fire Department. ″It was like a big runaway locomotive,″
The dead were taken to a temporary morgue at a funeral home in Beaver Falls, but their names had not been released by morning.
Hundreds of shoppers were at the plaza when the tornado struck, destroying a big Jamesway department store and various specialty shops, inflicting an estimated $5 million in damage.
Rescue workers and firemen used a crane to remove steel girders and chunks of debris today, searching for more bodies possibly buried beneath tons of bricks and pieces of the plaza’s roof.
More than two dozen tow trucks were needed to haul away destroyed or damaged cars.
Henry Austin of Bayonne, N.J., was unloading freight for the Jamesway store from his tractor trailer at about 8:20 p.m. when he spotted the twister only a few hundred yards away.
″The roof came off the store and just went right down a line of cars,″ Austin said. ″I’ve never seen anything like it. I was stunned.″
Austin leaped into his truck, which turned over onto its side. When he climbed out, he saw a hand sticking out of a pile of a rubble.
Austin frantically began digging and, a half-hour later, helped free Frank Gerello, a New Brighton man who works for a beer distributor in the shopping center.
″I prayed while I was in there,″ Gerello said. ″I’m just thankful I got out.″
David Norris dove on the floor of his physical fitness center when he spotted the twister.
″I was looking at the ceiling, when of a sudden the roof came off and I was looking at the sky,″ Norris said. ″I lost everything but I feel lucky, because I’m alive.″